Benson approved as CU’s next president
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – Oilman and former state Republican fundraiser Bruce Benson will be the next president of the University of Colorado after university regents approved his controversial nomination in a split vote late Wednesday.
After a public hearing the regents voted 6-3 in favor of Benson, the lone finalist.
Critics said Benson’s ties to the energy industry, his partisan activism and the fact that he has no advanced college degree made him a questionable candidate. Supporters said Benson could bring the school something it desperately needs: big donations and the ability to talk to politicians from both parties about funding for higher education.
Before the vote for Benson, Regent Cindy Carlisle offered a motion to reopen a search for president with more than one finalist offered. The motion failed.
All six Republican regents backed Benson; the three opposed were all Democrats.
“Now is the time for this university family to come together,” Regent Patricia Hayes said.
The University of Colorado regents faced a touchy decision on whether to appoint Benson as president of the CU system. Faculty at CU’s flagship Boulder campus last week voted down a resolution supporting Benson. The student government passed a resolution asking him to withdraw his candidacy.
They and others questioned Benson’s credentials to oversee a university with a $2 billion budget and 52,000 students, 24,000 employees and campuses in Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.
About 30 people spoke to the regents during a public hearing Wednesday. Several students asked regents to reconvene a search committee for a president, saying Benson was unqualified to be president. Boulder Faculty Assembly chair Uriel Nauenberg said a majority of peer institutions have presidents who have risen through academia.
“We’re not hiring Bruce Benson to go in the classroom to teach,” Regent Tom Lucero said.
Supporters touted his fundraising abilities and his record of reaching across the aisle in support of higher education.
Three state senators spoke in his favor Wednesday. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper noted Benson’s personal contributions to higher education and his fundraising, saying not only does Benson put his money where his mouth is, “he actually manages to put other people’s money where his mouth is.”
Republican state Sen. Nancy Spence said Benson is “what a playmaker is to a winning sports team.”
Benson will replace Hank Brown, who is stepping down 30 months after he was hired to right the university amid multiple scandals that led in part to the departure of Brown’s predecessor, Elizabeth Hoffman.
Like Benson, Brown is a prominent Republican. But Brown, a former U.S. senator, brought academic experience that Benson lacks, having served as president of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley from 1998 to 2002.
Brown holds two law degrees. Benson earned a B.A. in geology and was pursuing a master’s degree when he abandoned formal study to form his own company, Benson Mineral Group.
Others at CU ” whose climate researchers shared a Nobel Prize with Al Gore ” were nervous about his commitment to research to combat global warming.
Critics also questioned the funding Benson provided the Trailhead Group, a 527 that aims to put more Republicans in office.
But Benson has often worked with prominent Democrats in advocating more resources for education in Colorado and chaired a $1 billion fundraising campaign for CU.
He served as co-chair of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council, and he also successfully lobbied for Referendum C, a voter-approved measure in which taxpayers forfeited potential refunds to provide more funding for higher education and other items.
Benson has said CU could lose $88 million when Referendum C expires in less than three years. That would come at a time when annual state funding for CU has dwindled from about $210 million to $180 million in the last six years.
Higher education has been a frequent target for cuts in the state budget due to conflicting constitutional mandates. One requires funding for K-12 education to keep pace with inflation and then some, while the other limits overall tax increases.
Student government tri-executive Charles Gilford said he was upset after the vote. “It’s disheartening, considering the mass displays of student opposition and faculty opposition,” he said. Still he approached Benson, who did not attend the vote but arrived afterward, to shake his hand.
Benson said he had several meetings ahead with regents, chancellors, students and faculty to build bridges.
“Clean slate. Let’s go forward,” Benson said.
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A Nov. 30 to Governor Polis and the Eagle County Commissioners from Beaver Creek Resorts Company – as well as the towns of Vail, Avon, Eagle and Minturn – requests a variance program which would allow businesses to remain open.